The Happy Hollows: Imaginary EP

This quirky Pixies-esque trio from L.A.’s Silver Lake scene is definitely one to watch. Their magnetic personality is a combination of the Dischord-influenced D.C. rhythm section of bassist Charlie Mahoney and drummer Chris Hernandez, and the zany Bay area vibe of singer/guitarist/songwriter Sarah Negahdari. Imaginary improves upon the Happy Hollows’ quickly-recorded 2006 debut EP, Bunnies and Bombs, by bringing them much closer to capturing their live energy. Two songs in particular stand out for having become highlights of the band’s live sets – “Lieutenant,” with its unconventional structure, multiple parts and Eddie Van Halen-style guitar theatrics, makes the case for Negahdari as a rising new guitar hero. “Colors,” meanwhile, is remarkable for completely different reasons: it’s unbelievably simple, just a recitation of the names of – you guessed it – colors, by Negahdari and Mahoney over a repeating progression, with a giddy breakdown in the middle. It works even better live, watching Mahoney and Negahdari jumping and shouting the colors during the breakdown, and seeing Negahdari toss her tambourine before jumping back into the rhythm without missing a beat. But the energy, passion, and unfiltered fun of the band comes through on the whole of Imaginary loud and clear. Best of all – it costs next to nothing. (Heart 2008)

The Happy Hollows MySpace page

The Reel Banditos: Indochina

Dig it: an all-instrumental groove-out with a theme about ‘Nam, maaaan. And believe me when I say that it being all-instrumental is this disc’s saving grace when it comes to the source of inspiration. After all, this could have turned into a heavy-handed, politically bent bad trip, and well, ‘Nam’s been done to death in both all seriousness and taking knocks in comedic circles. So sit back and dig the grooves of “Saigon ’67,” which features some groovy percussion, and a cool, toked-out vibe. “Huey” filrts with wah-wah guitars and ’70s Zappa-esque frippery and goes down well. “Jungle Warfare” is laden with heartbeats and a spooky dank ambiance that makes you feel as if you are there. Then there’s the crunchy “Poisoned Sky” which puts R.E.M.’s “Orange Crush” into its pithy place. By the time you make it to “The Fall of Saigon,” you’ll be ripped and spent. Why can’t more artists who feel the need to crank out conceptual chunder follow the Reel Banditos’ lead and just keep their pens quiet and their instruments cranked? Ya got me, but this is one of those left field oddities worth a good listen. (self-released)

Reel Banditos’ MySpace page

Social Code: He Said, She Said

There’s something that’s different from most power pop and Warped Tour fare when it comes to Canadian rock band Social Code. On the band’s debut US EP, He Said, She Said, Social Code sets itself apart from the pack a bit with a lot of guitar-driven energy and with Travis Nesbitt’s raspy vocal (think Hawthorne Heights and Fall Out Boy having a child). The title track is the kind of stuff that will give record labels and radio programmers a collective wet dream. But Social Code is just paying the bills with that and with the catchy but slightly grating “Beautiful.” That’s because the best tracks here are “Perfect Grave” and “The Shortest Line.” The former has a dark, melody-driven approach ala the Goo Goo Dolls, and could launch this band into superstardom if the right people hear it. Love it or hate it, this genre is still here to stay for a while, and Social Code is worth keeping your eyes and ears on. (LABEL: Fifth Season Music)

Social Code MySpace Page

Mr. Meeble: Never Trust the Chinese

Downtempo is a tricky sub-genre of electronic music. Everyone wants to be Massive Attack or the Orb and deliver the end-all-be-all of post-club chill out. But if you take it too chill and relaxing, then the next thing you know you’re Dirty Vegas, or even worse, easy listening or New Age. It’s a fine line. On their offensively-named debut Never Trust the Chinese, Mr. Meeble tread that line like a tightrope, showing signs of sedative brilliance before tripping and falling off into the safety net of “Days Go By” derivatives. It opens great, through; “Raindrops” is a pretty out-there cover of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” that combines the ’70s cheese fest with occasional interludes of cut-up glitched vocals and an even more out-of-place rapping coda. It’s not exactly perfect, but it’s certainly unique. Other tracks, like the overly aggressive “A Ton Of Bricks” (apt name: it hits you like one) are jarring and obvious attempts for mainstream appeal that come off as soulless and empty.

All of Never Trust the Chinese is like this, going back and forth between the experimental and boring, the edgy and safe. This is a band of two minds, so much so that they even split up a song to demonstrate them both. “Everything Is Good (Part 1)” is an album highlight, a mostly instrumental sonic soundscape that engulfs you. But second part blows it all to hell by removing much of what made the first part so good and replacing them with dry, vapid and tone-deaf vocals. Never Trust the Chinese has all the trappings of a debut album by a band who has not yet found their sound. These guys need to throw a desire for a Top 40 fanbase to the wind and stick to the fringe, because they’ll definitely thrive there. (Absolute Motion 2008)

Mr. Meeble MySpace Page

Various Artists: Irish Hip Hop Volume 1

For any of those out there who are still listening to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and wondering what other Irish hip hop might sound like – only, you know, in 2008 – this compilation of 20 such tracks may very well quench that desire. As could be expected, not everything here is top notch. Rira’s “25 O’Clock in the Mornin’” and CMC’s “Home” sounds pretty generic no matter how you slice it (and the “fuck that” asides are unintentionally funny). And the less said about Shaymin’s “Lassie,” the better. But The Elements’ “Nu Skool” sounds tight and funky in an old-school way, and Project 77′s “Takin’ on the Planet” throws an Irish female voice into the stew with decent results. Other tracks such as Jee4ce’s “Contact” and Ophelia’s “Revolutionary” hold their own, but for the most part this collection feels a bit stale and sounds more like a quick cash-in than a fully realized project. (80 Million Records)

Saiah: Evolution

I don’t know who Saiah is, but his new disc Evolution starts off with a remixed version of a tune called “Nobody.” It doesn’t really matter, because this wannabe rapper doesn’t have a whole lot going for him. The mix on this track alone is atrocious, with generic squiggly synth notes farted out against a skeletal beat, both of which are mixed so low behind Saiah’s boring rhymes that it doesn’t even register as background noise. On the lamely-titled “H8,” we have to listen to yet another hip-hopper tell us how tough it is while hilariously bad synth cello lines mope around in the back. And when Saiah sings “Don’t walk out on me, baby / ‘Cause I’m about to be famous” on “Famous” while it sounds like some kid is listlessly pushing on piano keys, you just can’t take this dude seriously. So don’t. It doesn’t seem like anyone else is, anyway. Besides, you can tell the whole thing’s not worth your time thanks to the sleeve art that looks like it was made with the usual cheapo graphics kit available in the bargain bin at your local Wal-Mart. (April Fool Records)

Saiah MySpace page

Steal This Song: Keane – “The Lovers Are Losing (CSS Remix Edit)”

As if Keane wasn’t wearing their I Love the ’80s influences on their sleeves for their newest album, Perfect Symmetry, remix troupe CSS plays that angle up even further on their remix to the album’s second single, “The Lovers Are Losing.” Man, check out that fat keyboard sound. Is that from a DeBarge track, or the song that Lambda Lambda Lambda performs during Greek Week in “Revenge of the Nerds”? Either way, it’s a side to Keane that we have not seen before. We were beginning to wonder how long the band could churn out those devastating ballads before the urge to dance set in.

Ah, but don’t just take our word for it; Keane has offered us this song for you, dear reader, to download for free. So take it out for a spin, and shake that bootay.

Keane – The Lovers Are Losing (CSS Remix Edit)

Dear Mr. Fantasy: A Celebration of Jim Capaldi

In January of 2007, a very distinguished set of musicians put on a concert celebrating the life and work of Jim Capaldi, a founding member of Traffic who died in January of 2005 of stomach cancer at the age of 60. The DVD capturing the event is pleasant enough and features performances and contributions from musicians who worked with and were inspired by Capaldi’s spirit, songwriting and musicianship. The list includes Steve Winwood, Capaldi’s Traffic bandmate, who delivers a solid version of the Traffic classic “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and other luminaries such as Joe Walsh, Paul Weller, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) and Deep Purple alum and keyboard genius Jon Lord. The house band supporting these stars during the show included Bad Company alum Simon Kirke on the drums and multi-instrumentalist and band leader Mark Rivera (Foreigner, Ringo Starr, Billy Joel). The artists offer competent versions of Traffic and Capaldi solo material while adding a wrinkle or two of their own. Islam sneaks in a refrain of “Wild World” during “Man With No Country” and Walsh, ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman and Jon Lord deliver a bluesy, soulful rendition of “Living on the Outside.” Solid, mellow and entertaining without a ton of bells and whistles, the concert delivers a fine tribute to a respected artist and his work from those who loved him the most. (Eagle Vision)

Click to buy Dear Mr. Fantasy: A Celebration of Jim Capaldi

Deerhoof: Offend Maggie

Think what you will of Deerhoof – if you think of them at all – but know that whether you call them cute, noisy, awesome or annoying, you have to admit that they’ve got originality and ambition to spare. The San Francisco noise-pop darlings of the Kill Rock Stars roster are no less intriguing than usual on their ninth full-length studio album, with vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki sweetly cooing her regular mix of minimalist Japanese and English lyrics about a random assortment of topics (in this case, stalker boyfriends, God, and basketball, among other things), while her bandmates alternately churn out delicate yet forceful melodic thumpers (“Chandelier Searchlight”), prog-like dirges anchored by guitar arpeggios and piano a la Radiohead (“Buck and Judy”), and even a couple of fun stabs at a vaguely classic rock sound, straight out of Free’s “All Right Now” riff book (“The Tears and Music of Love”). The experiments with meager lyrics and unconventional song structures don’t always work – “Basket Ball get Your Groove Back” comes off like little more than an undeveloped fragment – but when they do, like on the album’s high point, “Numina O,” the results are nothing short of sublime. (Kill Rock Stars 2008)

Deerhoof MySpace page

Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts: Temporary People

Capping off a banner year for Joseph Arthur’s rabbit-like discography is this full-length collection of twelve songs, recorded with Arthur’s band, the Lonely Astronauts. What’s not surprising is that, unlike Arthur’s four EPs released this year, Temporary People maintains a consistency of sound from start to finish – warm, natural, like a live representation of a Lonely Astronauts performance. What is a bit of a puzzler, however, is the cover art – the red pen written across the band’s image looks tacky, to be nice about it. The black and white cover photo would have been just fine on its own. Get past that, though, and you get a solid collection of tunes employing choir-like vocal choruses (“Heart’s a Soldier”), eccentric and confident lead guitar sailing over solid rock rhythms, soulful organ (“Turn You On”) and even some frisky slide guitar and some Rolling Stones-like swagger and boogie on “Winter Blades.” The songs here are all (mostly) stronger than what appeared on the four preceding EPs, though the album as a whole never quite matches the artistic brilliance of Arthur’s third EP this year, Vagabond Skies, nor does it aim to. This is Arthur rocking out with his band, and everyone sounding happy to be doing so. It’s not quite the gold at the end of the EP rainbow, but then, expecting a grand swirling masterpiece was our problem, not Arthur’s. (Lonely Astronaut 2008)

Joseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts MySpace page

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